Maybe you’ve had a garden for a while. Maybe you’re planning to create a new one. Maybe you’re tired of what you have and want to redo it all. There are many considerations when creating a new garden space (How will we use it? What kind of “feel” do we want? Grass or no grass?) but at some point, your mind will start to consider colors. While there are an infinite number of color combinations for your garden, they each impart a particular feeling or a certain sense of energy.
In my travels as a garden writer, I’m privileged to photograph many stunning gardens, and I often take pictures of plant or color combinations that I think really work. Here are some of my favorites — but keep in mind, we’re not looking at the specific plants here, just the colors. To keep our eyes focused, I’m going to use examples that primarily use calibrachoas and coleus.
Red & Apricot
I love this combination because it’s kind of unexpected. Cherry red and apricot are both warm colors, but they are also very vibrant, even more so when planted in the same vicinity. If you want your garden to be lively, kind of tropical, and cheerful-looking, you might want to consider these colors.
Fuchsia & Pale Pink
Wow, more subdued, right? Although still somewhat bright and energetic, varying hues of the same color read as more calming to the eye. Different shades of pink are also decidedly more feminine and soft, even though the brighter pink really stands out.
Chartreuse & Red
Color combinations like this chartreuse and tomato red are kind of shocking — so, to me, this is very youthful and contemporary. Red and green, as a rule, usually seem very holiday-ish, but twist the hues a bit and suddenly you have a garden that is anything but. Electric, isn’t it?
Red & White
Here we’ve got a color combination that is much more traditional, but because the white is tinged with a bit of yellow in the center and blush on the edges, it’s not as expected. You have to get up close to see the difference. True red and white can be very formal, a bit nautical, and suggest a holiday planting, but this one is just off-beat enough to say “traditional, but not stuffy.”
Lime & Bright Pink
Ah, I love this one. The lime is not jarring — it’s almost a green-tinged white — and the bright pink is the perfect foil for the more subdued shade. Feminine, clean, energetic, youthful (almost girlish) — and yet, classy. When you take two strong colors like this, but let one of them (the pink) shine a bit more, it keeps garishness at bay. And garish is totally fine, but not for a classy lady.
Red & Purple
Even though red and purple aren’t exactly opposites on the color wheel, they are far enough away to provide immediate contrast. High contrast like this suggests lots of energy and excitement. Two strong colors going head-to-head. Add white and it can look very 4th of July — which can be totally fun — and left as is, it makes a strong statement for unapologetic gardeners.
Violet & White
Add white to anything and it immediately tones the whole combination down, cools it off and adds classic sensibility. And I love the shade of this purple — it’s not a violent purple, and it’s also not too pale and sugary. This is important, because it means that it’s neither a masculine nor a feminine combination. Now, I firmly believe in banning gender stereotypes, and letting everyone choose whatever colors they want for their wardrobes, interiors and gardens. But if you are a man or a woman looking for something more neutral, this can be it.
I have about eleventy million more combos to show you, but I don’t want to overwhelm. I’ll write a Color Combinations for the Garden Part Deux sometime for you. The idea is to start looking at colors, how they work together, the mood they invoke and what they say about you and your garden. Take some time to choose not only the colors, but their hues, very carefully — your garden and its plants are extensions of who you are and how you view the world. Not to be dramatic or anything. That would be so Black & White of me.